Bali faces future after bombing
Bali is many things to many people. The “Island of the Gods,” as the tourist literature describes it, has seen many people reach its shores over the past few hundred years. Bali’s image as a tropical paradise full of colorful inhabitants practicing a fascinating mix of religion, ritual, and the arts has a large degree of truth to it.
The Balinese people are wonderful hosts and go out of their way to show foreign tourists the best their island has to offer. The vast majority of people who visit the island do have very positive things to say about the warmth and kindness of the people.
This image of Bali as an island full of “talented village artisans practicing their simple religion with no concern for the modern world” is guarded very cautiously by the Balinese and the international tourism industry. It is a very specific image that has been cultivated very carefully.
A huge bomb exploded outside the Sari Club disco at Kuta Beach on Oct. 12, 2002. Until this bomb exploded leaving scores of tourists and locals dead, Bali had a commanding reputation of being one of the most exotic and safe destinations in the world. The Balinese people have always repeated this assertion that Bali was immune from all the political instability that other parts of Indonesia had to constantly endure.
As Bali is an isolated Hindu island in largely Muslim Indonesia, the Balinese could rightly justify that their unique island culture was very separate from the rest of Indonesia. The bomb on Oct.12 changed all that.
It is common knowledge that the Balinese have become too dependent on tourist dollars for the last 30 years or so. Kuta Beach in particular has transformed itself from coastal rice fields into a huge tourist ghetto with the likes of discos, restaurants, hotels, go-cart tracks, bungee jump centers, etc. The reality is that so much of the negative effects of modern Bali (prostitution, drugs, theft, greed, traffic, etc.) were centered around the Sari Club and did not represent the “real Bali” image.
This may be a controversial statement, but my Indonesian relatives and I feel that many Balinese will interpret this bomb hitting Kuta Beach as a form of karma coming full circle. The running commentary for the past 20 years has pointed the finger at Kuta as examples of unrestricted development, vice and poor planning gone haywire.
How will the Balinese pick up the pieces and move forward? The nature of tourism will be re-evaluated, and other cottage industries will most likely be developed. They are a tough people with a strong spirit. They have developed the necessary skills of understanding the importance of balancing good and evil in this world, and they have endured much greater obstacles than this horrible bombing in the past 1,000 years.
Do they want our sympathy? Absolutely not! They want people that already know the magic of Bali to come back and tell their friends to come, too, and enjoy all that this wonderful island has to offer. Anybody who knows the Balinese understands that they will bounce back from this tragedy. Balinese people will recover that much quicker if their great network of international admirers show their support and return to Bali for yet another wonderful vacation.
Yes, the short-term economic fallout will be hard for the island’s economy, but these are very innovative people who will find a new way to flourish while keeping their heads up and their spirits high. If the Balinese can maintain their composure, become more introspective, and control their anger and frustration, they will find new creative ways to make a living and their loving nature and simple ways will prevail in the end.
What is the new image of Bali after Oct. 12, 2002? Pack your sarong and sunglasses and get on a plane and head down to Bali to find out for yourself. You will be greeted with open arms and big smiles!
Mike Hillis and his wife, Priska, own Bali Sierra in Grass Valley. Her family members are Javanese Christians who have lived in Bali for more than 30 years.
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